Austin downtown skyline over Town Lake

February 17, 2016 – Austin Population Migration Insights

Posted By Chris Ramser | Feb 17, 2016
Central Texas Economy in Perspective Print Article Austin downtown skyline over Town Lake
  • Metro Austin gains 158 net new residents daily—108 due to net migration and 45 natural increase (births exceeding deaths).

  • New residents added since 2010 account for 7.8% of total 2014 population, which is the largest share among major metros.

  • The greatest sources of new migrants to the Austin MSA are other parts of Texas, followed by California, Florida, Illinois, and Michigan.

  • Excluding other Texas metros, the metros contributing the most net new residents to Austin are Chicago, Los Angeles, Tampa and Philadelphia.

Each of the last few years, the Austin MSA has grown by about 54,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s population estimate program.  Much of this growth is attributable to domestic migration, roughly 56% with another 11% due to international migration, and 32% from natural increase.  From 2010 to 2014, the region received a net gain of around 30,000 people from other locations in the U.S. 

Austin ranks first among the top 50 largest metros for new residents as a percent of total population. Between 2010 and 2014, Austin saw total population growth of 226,996. Of this number, net migration accounted for 152,058 and natural increase accounted for the remainder. Net migration between 2010 and 2014 accounts for 7.8% of Austin's total 2014 population. 

For Texas, 53.0% of population change from 2013 to 2014 is due to net migration and 46.2% is due to natural increase. In Austin, 68.8% of growth is due to net migration and 28.8% is as a result of natural increase.

The Austin metro's total population grew by 57,496 between 2013 and 2014**, which is a daily increase of 158 persons. Expressed as persons per day, net migration accounts for 108 people per day, while another 45 people are the result of births exceeding deaths (natural increase).  The Census Bureau's estimates of the components of population change also include a residual amount that is not attributable to demographic shifts (4 persons per day in this daily expression of Austin's growth).

The annual Population Estimates program provides the Census Bureau's best estimates of total population, population growth, and the components of population growth for metros and counties. An alternative program, the Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS) provides a source for population characteristics, including migration.

Using sample data collected annually in the ACS, the Census Bureau aggregates 5 years of data to generate estimates of annual migration between each U.S. county, and publishes this data in its Census Flows Mapper application. The current version of the map uses samples collected from 2009 to 2013, but the data is calculated to resemble the annual number of movers between counties. Each year, the Census Bureau refreshes the data and includes a new set of characteristics of movers such as ability to speak English and place of birth (for 2009-13). Earlier releases have treated movers' employment status and occupation (2008-12), education and income (2007-11), and age, sex, & race/ethnicity (2006-10).

Data downloaded from Census Flows Mapper shows the number of net migrants, as well as inbound and outbound flows from a selected county to all other counties in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Aggregating each county in the Austin MSA, and excluding movers from one Austin MSA county to another, shows that Austin received 112,691 domestic inbound migrants, and sent outbound migrants of 74,279 to other places for total net migration of 38,412. Inbound flow was dominated by people arriving from other counties in Texas (56.2%), followed by California (6.4%), Florida (3.7%), Illinois (2.6%), and New York (2.2%). Each state that contributed at least 1.0% of inbound migrants to Austin MSA are labeled in the pie chart below. All other states contributed 16.5% of the inbound total.

In-migration to the Austin region exceeded out-migration for 39 states and the District of Columbia, while Austin saw slight deficit flows with ten states—that is, more Austinites departing to than coming from these states. Four states, excluding Texas with 19,643, contributed over 1,000 net migrants each to Austin, including California (2,819), Florida (2,519), Illinois (1,753), and Michigan (1,498). The ten states with negative net migration to Austin were Massachusetts (568), New Hampshire (151), Montana (98), Nebraska (85), Mississippi (64), Oregon (45), Vermont (32), Alabama (20), North Dakota (9), and Washington (4). Because Census Flows Mapper doesn’t publish the margin of error for these estimates, it is impossible to know if these deficits were within the margin of error, but given the nature of some of the small differences it is quite possible.

In addition to calculating total flows for the entire Austin metro, we’ve aggregated the origin county to its corresponding metro and produced two tables of the top gains and deficits by metropolitan area. Of the top 20 net flows to Austin, ten were from fellow metro areas in Texas. Topping the list was Houston sending a net 5,447 people to Austin each year over the past five years, followed by Dallas with 4,115, and San Antonio with 1,694. Rounding out the Top 5 were Killeen-Temple and Chicago.  Two California metros (Los Angeles and San Francisco), and two Florida metros (Tampa and Miami) were also in the top 20.

Other metros with a large volume of in- and out-bound migrants, but were not on the Top 20 list for most number of net migrants, were College Station (inbound 1,917/outbound 1,789), Washington DC (inbound 1,393/outbound 1,184), Phoenix (inbound 1,216/outbound 1,044), and San Diego (inbound 954/outbound 544).   

The top 20 metro areas with which Austin has a migration deficit included five Texas metros: Corpus Christi, Lubbock, Beaumont, Victoria and Abilene. Corpus Christi was at the top of this list with an estimated annual inbound flow of 1,019 compared to outbound flow of 1,719 resulting in a net deficit of 700. Rounding out the top five were Boston, Lubbock, Beaumont, and Albuquerque. Perhaps underscoring some of the limitations of the data as a result of sample size and potential margins of error is the possible, but curious, 0 inbound migration from Sebring, FL while a supposed 151 people were estimated to have moved from Austin to that small metro (population 98,000).   

The ACS Flows Mapper allows us to analyze migration between counties within the Austin area. An annual estimate of 45,010 people moved from one county in the metro to another. The crosswalk table below shows estimated movers from one county to another within the metro. Start by picking a county from the vertical list of counties labeled “moved out of” and next pick a county from the list of horizontal list of “moved into” counties, finding the cell where the row and column intersection. For example, 15,555 moved out of Travis and into Williamson. Conversely, 11,305 moved out of Williamson and into Travis.

An alternative to the relatively new Census Bureau ACS migration data is the Internal Revenue Service's files of U.S. county-to-county migration data based on year-to-year address changes reported on individual income tax returns. We'll examine Austin migration using that source in a future Central Texas Economy in Perspective article.

To download an Excel workbook of several worksheets of the ACS data presented in this article, click here. The file includes a summary table of county, metro, and flows for the Austin MSA region as well as an individual worksheet of county-to-county flows for each of the five Austin MSA counties.

** New 2015 population estimates for U.S. counties and metropolitan areas will be released by the Census Bureau in March 2016.

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Chris Ramser

Director of Research, Chris Ramser, joined the Chamber’s Economic Development Department in 2011, after 6 years doing community & economic development, and GIS mapping with regional planning agencies. Chris earned a B.A. in Political Science & History at Southwestern University.